At work, at home, or out in public – no one ever expects to encounter an active shooter. But no matter how unlikely, the potential for tragedy is great enough that everyone should take the time to learn a few simple skills to respond. By having good situational awareness & learning when to run, when to hide, and when to fight, you might save your own life and even the lives of those around you.
Run – Get away, take your peers, share what you know
Get away from danger – When the Hot finds you, and the threat is imminent, escaping to safety is always the first choice. Whether it’s a marauding gunman, an advancing fire or a runaway car, removing yourself from a threat is the safest move. Keep in mind, your ability to escape quickly is linked to your day-to-day situational awareness. Are you always checking for easy exits? Do you know where the back stairwell will empty out? Is the fire escape safe?
Take people with you – When escape is the best option, and you’ve chosen your route, take as many people with you as possible. When wrought with fear, some individuals freeze and need a nudge to act. Knowing a way out and assertively saying "follow me,” may be the initiative some folks need to make the move, but don’t get bogged down convincing someone to run when they have made the personal choice to hide.
Share what you know – Getting away has more benefits than just your immediate safety. Once free of the threat, you have the ability to provide accurate, first hand knowledge to responders. You may know the area or the building and may have some details about the assailant that make all the difference:
Who are they?
What are they wearing?
What weapons does it look like they’re using?
How many victims?
Where are the victims?
Where was the assailant last headed?
When your account is combined with the stories of others that have escaped, responders are able to piece together a much more accurate picture of the scenario at hand to create the best possible response plan.
Hide – Cover vs. Concealment
Escaping isn’t always an option. If the threat is too close, if the escape routes are blocked (or take you too close to the threat), or if you’re not sure where the threat is located – hiding is the next best option.
Look for cover or concealment (& know the difference!) – Knowing the difference between cover and concealment is important when choosing a place to hide. Secreting yourself in the janitor’s closet may feel secure, but the thin sheetrock walls and hollow-core door won’t offer much safety if bullets come that way – it’s better than standing in the open but isn’t as safe as a file room with floor to ceiling metal filing cabinets full of documents.
If given the opportunity, consider the available options and consciously CHOOSE your location based on either it’s ability to conceal or its ability to slow/stop bullets, not purely its convenience.
Choose different hiding places depending on the threat – A quick note, we are focusing heavily on the threat being a firearm. Take a moment to consider the scenario where someone screams out, "He’s got a knife! Hide!” How would that information change your choices for cover and concealment? For example, consider the mechanics of the threat of a knife. If you hide in a shallow closet, less than an arm length deep, where can you go to avoid the knife if the door is swung open? If there is some depth to the hiding spot, there will be more options to move, avoid, dodge and fight back.
One last thought on hiding spots with doors. Take time to note which doors typically open inward and which open outward. If you have the choice, an inward opening door is easier to fortify or barricade from the inside. Think about it ahead of time so you have a better ability to make good decisions when your life depends on it.
Fight – Rock, Paper, Scissors beats Gun
When you can’t run or hide, fight – When you come face-to-face with the assailant (or very close to it), the only rule you need to remember is DO NOT BE A COMPLIANT VICTIM! There is no way to definitively explain how to react or one simple move that will disarm the assailant with 100% effectiveness. When forced to fight, it is a fight for your life. There are no rules. There is no second place. Fortunately, surviving the next few minutes doesn’t necessarily require a black belt or years of training in defensive tactics!
Change your definition of "fighting” – For our purposes, "fighting” refers to any and every attempt you make to be a difficult target. Throw things (metal staplers would hurt!), improvise weapons (those scissors, or the painted rock from Father’s Day), bite, kick, scratch, scream and make noise…anything you can do to make yourself a miserable target. Best case scenario is the assailant is subdued by your assault – perhaps your actions recruit others and he/she is simply overwhelmed by superior numbers. Maybe they run away from you! There’s no way to predict the outcome.
Not convinced a stapler will make a difference? Throwing objects, hitting, and even screaming makes the difficult skill of accurately shooting even more difficult by degrading the shooter’s ability to concentrate and be accurate. Regardless of their familiarity with their weapon of choice, sitting quietly and waiting for them to decide your fate should never be an option.
You won’t have to fight for very long: no one is asking you to go 10 rounds with Mike Tyson. Typically the first arriving cops will force the assailant into action that’s not directed at you (fight with the police, barricade, or suicide). You only have to hold on for a little while until help arrives. Once you start fighting back, you may not find yourself alone for long; your actions will inspire other individuals around you to fight back and your strength in numbers may make the difference.
A critical piece of learning how to respond to an active shooter situation is learning how to safely provide care to victims injured by the threat. Many organizations across the country are installing Public Access Trauma Stationsto ensure that bystanders who have the knowledge have the equipment they need to save lives such as tourniquets, pressure dressings, and other bleeding control equipment.